Western Conference heavyweights the Houston Rockets hope to extend their recent unbeaten run as they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have won their last six games. Watch live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours of Thursday morning.
After slumping to a 1-5 start, the Rockets have shown signs of recovery over the last seven days, knocking off the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers to restore their record to a more respectable 4-5.
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The Thunder (6-4) got off to a similarly sluggish start, losing their opening four games before reeling off six straight wins, a streak that has included notable victories over fellow playoff contenders the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans.
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James Harden, who has averaged 26.5 points in the two games he has played since returning to the Houston line-up following a three-game absence, will hope to move closer to the form that earned him last season’s regular season MVP award.
Summer Rockets acquisition Carmelo Anthony will return to Oklahoma for the first time since his disappointing one-season tenure with the Thunder came to an end. The veteran’s production (or lack of it) off the bench may be crucial to the outcome of the game.
Meanwhile, the Thunder will have their fingers crossed that star man Russell Westbrook is fit to start the game. Westbrook sprained his ankle during the Thunder’s win against the New Orleans Pelicans and was ruled out of Wednesday’s match-up with the Cleveland Cavaliers. His involvement against Houston is likely to be a game-time decision.
Key Battle: PJ Tucker vs Russell Westbrook
If Westbrook starts the game, the Rockets best defensive option against him is PJ Tucker. With his speed and athleticism, Westbrook has the ability to take over any game.
Houston will not stop him getting his points, but the hard-nosed Tucker can ensure he has to work hard to get them. Tucker’s goal will be to deny Westbrook drives to the basket and force him to take less-efficient mid-range and three-point shots.
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Last time out
89 – That’s the number of three-pointers the Thunder have made in their 10 games to date, the lowest of any team in the league.
Oklahoma’s lack of outside shooting could leave them exposed against the Rockets, who are certain to launch a barrage of three-balls of their own. Should the Rockets connect on a good percentage of those shots, the Thunder will have a tough time keeping pace on the scoreboard.
One to watch (Rockets) – Clint Capela
The Rockets big man has started off this season like he finished the last, racking up plenty of points, rebounds and blocks. He has posted double-doubles in six successive games.
More importantly, Capela has been key as the Rockets have started to shore up their defense, conceding under 100 points in their past two games following a sloppy start to the season.
One to watch (Thunder) – Dennis Schroder
Schroder’s scoring has been key for the Thunder in their recent winning run. Off the bench, the German point guard’s consistent scoring has paced Oklahoma City when Westbrook and Paul George have rested in the games.
In Westbrook’s absence against the Cavs, Schroder contributed 28 points in a starting role. The Thunder may require a similar performance is Westbrook is ruled out of the game.
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